Never mind BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Are you ready for BYOA (Bring Your Own Application)?

In a natural extension of the forces that led employees to want to bring their own devices to work, now they also want to bring their own applications, such as Evernote for keeping personal notes and WhatsApp for messaging. As with BYOD, while BYOA includes risks, there are benefits. More to the point, it’s not likely that you’re going to be able to stop users from doing it anyway, so the best you can do is control the process to protect the company.

BYOA doesn’t mean that companies bring new employees in, plunk them down at a desk, and expect them to go research and acquire the software on their own that they need to do their work. Rather, BYOA means that employees use the apps they already have on their phones and other smart devices as an adjunct to their work.

Some companies, especially smaller ones, see BYOA as a money-saving, and even money-making, tool. “BYOA also provides significant benefits to businesses, including lower capital expenditures for software purchases and licensing and reduced training requirements, since employees choose the apps with which they are most comfortable and proficient,” writes Inc.

It’s all part of what some call the “consumerization of IT.” Typically these apps are free and many of them are geared toward the consumer rather than the enterprise. But if it does the job, why not? “Cited benefits of IT consumerization and the use of consumer applications include greater employee engagement and satisfaction as well as improved productivity,” notes Margaret Rouse in TechTarget.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, you probably won’t be able to stop users from running their own apps anyway. “It really doesn’t matter if IT formally rejects BYOD—or Bring Your Own Apps—because it’s happening anyway,” warns Tom Kaneshige in CIO. Citing an industry survey, he notes that more than half of employees admit to using their own apps to do their jobs. Worse, many of them keep it hidden from IT, he writes.

What leads users to BYOA? “40 percent of respondents say their company doesn’t have the budget for the right technology tools,” Kaneshige writes. “A similar percentage say their company provides tools, just not the ones they want. And one out of three respondents says the tools the company provides are outdated.”

Other complaints are that IT is too busy to help or has too arduous a process.

Consequently, an increasing number of corporations are starting to bite the bullet and allow BYOA. “Seventy-six percent of IT workers recognize they’re delivering outdated enterprise tools that aren’t meeting employees’ needs,” Kaneshige writes. As a result, more than half of IT workers expect employees to use apps and devices unapproved by IT, he adds.

Similarly, another survey found that 81 percent of small- to medium-sized businesses already implement BYOA, writes Heather Clancy in ZDNet. (Another interesting tidbit from that survey? While IT departments expected users to be running an average of 2.8 apps each, the real figure is more on the order of 28.)

In fact, BYOA has become as important as BYOD in the development of a comprehensive mobile strategy, writes Gartner Research Vice President Ian Finley.

So if BYOA saves the company money and makes employees happier and more productive, what’s the problem? As with the similar issue of shadow IT, security. That’s particularly true because some of the main apps that employees like to BYO are personal cloud applications that allow them to save project files and take them offsite to work on later.

While that’s a laudable goal, it has two primary risks. First, corporate data could get stolen. Second, if the data gets changed, then you end up with multiple versions with no clear way to reconcile them. In addition, if you’re in a highly regulated industry, you could run afoul of various data security requirements.

In fact, another survey found that 46 percent of senior IT professionals believe data is leaking from their companies due to unmanaged file sharing products, Kaneshige writes.

The solution? Focus on protecting the data and ways to securely manage your company’s content, not what device or application is being used to access it. For example, you might allow users to gain access to corporate data from their own devices and apps, but not copy or alter it using policies you can set with enterprise content management software.

When you officially implement BYOA (because chances are your employees implemented it months ago), make sure users tell you what apps they’re using. Obviously, this is so you can research the app and be aware of any security risks it might pose. But there’s more to it: Apps that one user finds valuable may be useful to other employees as well.

And if it turns out that most people in a department or even in the whole company are using a particular app, maybe it behooves IT to start supporting that app on a company-wide basis. Similarly, if it turns out that nearly everyone is using an off-the-rack messaging app, but they’re using all different ones, perhaps it would be helpful to standardize on a single one, or at least a single one per department.

Clancy cites one example of a company concerned about the cloud storage applications being used by the sales team to share documents and presentations. Rather than banning those services, the company settled on the most appropriate one for its needs and migrated employees to that option, which could be secured and managed more easily than the others, she writes.

In addition, you may find that your corporate infrastructure needs beefing up to support the wave of devices and apps that are going to start using it, writes Conner Forrest in TechRepublic. “Pay special mind to the network utilization and bandwidth consumption of apps that are brought in,” he advises.

And take heart. With the proper precautions, there’s no reason to believe that BYOA will drive you to BYOB.

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